Create an outline before you start writing

If you are a new or aspiring writer you may not even have thought about why you should create an outline before you start writing. So, let me explain the purpose of an outline and why it can be useful.

An outline acts as a framework or road map which you can refer to when you start writing your first draft. Some writers believe that outlines inhibit their creativity, spontaneity and originality. However, if approached in the right way, an outline can help you to avoid the endless writing and rewriting of drafts which often happens when you haven’t planned and organised the structure and content of your writing in advance.

Outlines are a good starting point for any type of writing

Whether you are planning to write a full-length book, a series of short stories or articles (or whatever), creating an outline before you launch into your first draft will ultimately save you time. There is no rule that says you have to stick to your outline once you start writing. You may decide to leave some bits out or introduce new ideas, or you may rethink the order or structure but at least you have something concrete to refer to.

There is no right or wrong way to create an outline before you start writing

You can sketch your outline on paper, on post-it notes, on a blackboard or whiteboard, on a computer or whatever medium suits you best and it can take any form you want. For example, you may prefer a more formal written plan with headings/subheadings etc. or you might find a mind map (or similar) gives you the opportunity to brainstorm ideas as you go along. There are so many different ways in which you can approach creating an outline. Just like writing, you are only limited by your imagination and creativity.

Why are outlines useful?

Here are some of the main reasons why outlines are an important part of the writing process:

  • they help you to organise your thoughts and ideas before you start writing
  • they act as a framework/road map which you can refer to when you start writing
  • they help you to plan your story/article (or whatever) piece by piece
  • they enable you to figure out what you want to include in your story and how you want it to start and finish
  • they help you to plan how you are going to develop the theme of your story and how your ideas will fit into the overall structure
  • they help you to identify which ideas still need a bit more research
  • they help you to see the overall plan/picture before you start writing your first draft
  • they give you the freedom to express your ideas/thoughts without worrying about correct grammar, spellings etc.
  • they are less intimidating to create than launching straight into your first draft
  • they ultimately save you writing and rewriting endless drafts

Although to create an outline before you start writing does take a bit of time and effort it is a good way of organising and refining you ideas before you launch into your first draft. The alternative is to waste time trying to work it all out as you struggle through numerous drafts. So why not give it a go.

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Create an outline before you start writing
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